By: Logan Lockhart | Sports Journalism Student, Centennial College
Erin Needra is one of four women who are head coaches for the competitive clubs who play in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL), and she thinks it’s time that there’s more.
Needra has coached in the Toronto area for six years and is now the bench boss of the U11 AA team in North Toronto.
The North Toronto coach’s main focus behind the bench is her team and their development, but she also has the desire to see more women in her position.
“Women are playing a much bigger role in hockey now than they ever have, and it’s becoming more of the norm,” said Needra. “So, as it’s becoming more of the norm and people realize how good women players are and see that women can be really effective coaches, then it becomes easier for women to coach at the younger levels.”
Diversity and inclusion in hockey are important to Needra, however the significance of those themes goes far beyond gender or race in her mind — it’s about new coaching ideas.
“What’s good about having more women in coaching is that it just gives a different perspective,” Needra says. “It encourages not only diversity of representation, but it encourages diversity of thought.
“Part of what enriches the game and makes it more fun is having different people with different approaches. You try to make (the game) fun for the kids, and sometimes some women athletes will have different experiences than some male athletes, so you need to bring that all to one table.”
Being a role model to young girls makes Needra proud but acting as a leader to her male players means just as much.
“It’s important that young girls have visible role models, and that young boys are able to see women as athletes and as prominent figures in sport,” said Needra.
She has ideas on how to make that happen for others.
It starts with celebrating the prominent past and present GTHL women. Raising an awareness of women’s hockey history and its impact is what the North Toronto coach believes needs to be highlighted at various organizational levels.
“For example, the GTHL can have an alumni program for women players,” said Needra. “And at the club level, it’s the same kind of thing — keep in touch with the girls who played at your club and encourage them to come back.”
Developing outlets for communication among all the current and potential women coaches in the GTHL is something that Needra believes is part of the solution, but that can’t be done without first establishing a level of comfort for the ones who don’t believe they will be welcomed in the sport. It’s a thought she’s discussed with the GTHL’s coordinator of hockey development and community outreach, Stephanie Hyde.
“We are definitely looking to explore more ways to communicate with coaches, and then giving the women coaches specifically possibly the opportunity to have some sort of mentorship,” said Hyde. “And then we can create an environment for them to feel included.”
Women who feel intimidated about entering coaching are the ones that both Hyde and Needra want to focus on when investigating all the ways to get more women involved in the sport.
“It’s definitely as a woman more challenging, and I can see how some people might be intimidated with how male-dominated coaching is,” said Hyde. “But I do think having women already in the (GTHL) coaching helps with that.”
Along with mentorship programs that assist women with breaking into the coaching landscape in minor hockey, Needra believes that creating smaller training groups can be just as productive.
“You can create peer groups,” said Needra. “For example, all the AA coaches would know each other, and all the A coaches would know each other, and then maybe you have a peer group that connects all of the women coaches.
“Another thing would be if you have small training groups where it’s a little bit less intimidating. It’s intimidating for people to come to a seminar where they’re the only person who might be a woman or might be from another diverse group, so maybe you can have smaller coaching sessions where it’s easier to feel more comfortable.”
Both Hyde and Needra believe that a higher level of comfort will lead to more women coaching at the competitive level in the GTHL.